Participants compete during Red Bull Goni Pony at Kranjska Gora, Slovenia on June 01, 2024. // Sinisa Kanizaj / Red Bull Content Pool /

Ride Back in time with Red Bull Goni Pony

The Red Bull Goni Pony, a one-of-a-kind cycling event, took place at the highest Slovenian mountain pass, Vršič, drawing 1,669 enthusiastic participants this year. The race, now in its tenth edition, is a nostalgic nod to the legendary 20-inch Pony bike from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, once a staple in nearly every Slovenian household.

The Red Bull Goni Pony originated as a nostalgic celebration of cycling, combining a retro party with a gruelling race. Participants can compete on either a vintage Pony bike (produced between 1965 and 1985) or a new Pony Classic model, provided it meets specific criteria: 20-inch wheels, no gears, no motors, no carbon parts or crank lengths exceeding 180mm.

The race has grown in popularity over the years, with each edition bringing new records and stories. The spirit of the event remains rooted in its retro charm, as riders don eclectic outfits ranging from old leggings to vintage T-shirts.

The ascent to Vršič pass is a daunting challenge, starting from the picturesque village of Kranjska Gora, a well-known ski resort. The race spans 13 kilometres, including 24 infamous serpentines and a height difference of 801 meters. Riders must tackle this climb on 20-inch bikes without gears, making the feat both a physical and mental test.

This year’s event set a new record for the number of competitors, with many donning retro outfits and equipment from the bike’s heyday. The men’s competition saw top mountain runner and ski mountaineer Luka Kovačič win for the fourth time, completing the climb in 43 minutes and 13 seconds. In the women’s category, Anja Plešnik, a member of the factory team producing modern Pony bikes, claimed victory in 54 minutes and 50 seconds. Kovačič holds the race’s current record, set in 2020, at 39 minutes and 39 seconds.

Despite a rainy start to the day, the weather cleared as the race began, creating a vibrant atmosphere filled with spectators and various activities. The event also featured a contest for the best retro outfits, with competitors vying for new Pony bikes.

Notable participants included former ski cross athlete Filip Flisar, known for his iconic moustache and lively personality. Donning ultra-short pants, a provocative T-shirt, and a retro jacket, Flisar completed the race in 1 hour, 54 minutes, and 55 seconds, meeting the challenge of both the bike’s endurance and his own.

Before the start, he said: “I’m not really made for such sports disciplines where one needs to suffer for almost an hour. I’d rather give my all for a minute and then rest. This year, I decided to give it a try, and I also have a goal – first, the bike needs to survive until the top, because we all know I’m everything but gentle, and second, I need to survive as well.”

Luka Kovačič reflected on this year’s race, noting the challenging conditions and the increasing difficulty of the climb: “Today was unbelievable. There were never so many people at the start and so many spectators. A real corridor. Also along the road, up to the top. The competition was harsh, I had to really push the pedals to get away. But this Vršič gets steeper and higher each year. They need to measure it again next year because it’s definitely longer. Well, perhaps I was just slower [laughs].”

Despite his old Pony bike’s wear and tear, which helped him break the current record in 2020, he remains committed to competing with it, aiming to maintain the event’s nostalgic essence.

Anja Plešnik, after her first victory, expressed the race’s extraordinary appeal: “This race is like a magnet – once it gets you, it doesn’t let you go. Years ago, my friends told me to attend Red Bull Goni Pony, but I thought I was not crazy enough to ride a pony bike to Vršič. Well, then I went once and this is my third year and I got my first victory.”

With its rich tapestry of challenging cycling routes set against Slovenia’s stunning landscapes, the Red Bull Goni Pony emerges not only as a competitive event but also as a poignant homage to the cherished Pony bike era, deeply resonating with participants and spectators alike. Its fusion of past and present transcends traditional sporting boundaries, elevating it to the status of a cherished cultural phenomenon intricately woven into the fabric of Slovenian culture.

Ride back in time and explore the world of Red Bull Goni Pony HERE.

Header image: Participants compete during Red Bull Goni Pony at Kranjska Gora, Slovenia on June 01, 2024. Credit: Sinisa Kanizaj / Red Bull Content Pool

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